Kobritz says NCAA discussion on feeding student athletes is abuse

These restrictions are just another example of how the tyrannical governing body abuses the golden goose - student athletes - that makes the suits in the Ivory Towers, i.e., NCAA employees, coaches and athletic administrators, flush with cash.

On Thursday, the NCAA Division I Board of Directors will vote on a proposal to expand meal options for its student athletes. If you’re a betting person – and if you filled out a March Madness bracket you are – bet the house that the proposal will pass.

One of the thousands of petty and arcane rules adopted and enforced by the NCAA limits student athletes on full scholarships to three meals a day or a food stipend. Even greater meal restrictions are placed on walk-ons and those on partial scholarships. No late-night meals or snacks are permitted on the theory that…well, who cares what the theory is? The restrictions are just another example of how the tyrannical governing body abuses the golden goose – student athletes – that makes the suits in the Ivory Towers, i.e., NCAA employees, coaches and athletic administrators, flush with cash.

Last week the NCAA Division I Legislative Council adopted a resolution that would allow member institutions to properly feed student athletes. Council Chair Mary Mulveena, Assistant Commissioner of the America East Conference, said the decision was “probably one of our easiest decisions all day.” Probably? What decision could have possibly been easier than that one?

The proposal to expand meal plans received a boost last month when University of Connecticut guard Shabazz Napier, who led his team to this year’s NCAA men’s basketball title, responded to a question on the recent ruling that allows Northwestern University football players to vote on a union. Napier said the ruling was “kind of great.” He went on to say that although he appreciated his scholarship, “there were hungry nights that I go to bed starving.” That off-handed remark caused a media firestorm and lit a fire under the lethargic – at least when it comes to enacting reforms that benefit student athletes – NCAA.

The issue of expanding meal options has been discussed for years and a proposal had been languishing on the NCAA agenda since last year. Although the move has the unanimous support of coaches – Kentucky coach John Calipari has been an outspoken critic of the limitation on meals, claiming his players lose weight during the season – and many athletic directors, not everyone involved in higher education was on board with the idea.

As any supermarket shopper can attest, food costs money, especially when you’re trying to satisfy the seemingly insatiable appetite of growing, active athletes. Why spend money to feed athletes when there are other demands – such as multi-million dollar contracts for coaches, million dollar contracts for athletic directors, $40 million to support the bloated personnel budget at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis – on those resources? Never mind that it’s the athletes who are most responsible for generating the funds that allow everyone else in the system the option of unlimited meals and snacks.

After the Legislative Council’s vote, NCAA President Mark Emmert was interviewed on ESPN Radio’s Mike & Mike show. Emmert made a number of embarrassing gaffs, at one point saying he did not “know how to interpret” Napier’s comments about going to bed hungry. He then proceeded to defend the current rules on meal plans. Later in the show Emmert stated that the NCAA’s “biggest problem” was “dumb rules about food.”

The contradiction speaks volumes about the current state of affairs at NCAA central, including the obvious lack of leadership. Which is it, the current food rules are defensible or they’re “dumb?” And if the later, shouldn’t it be the role of a leader to marshal the forces for change, indeed, impose it on the membership even if in doing so he risked his own fat compensation and perks?

Rather than spend tens-of-millions of dollars annually on legal fees to defend “dumb rules” the NCAA should simply void them. Instead, it moves forward glacially and then only when forced to do so by the legal system. The NCAA has no one to blame but itself for the Northwestern University ruling and the spate of lawsuits that are destined to change college athletics forever, and not necessarily for the better.

Napier’s comments and the ensuing media criticism surely motivated the NCAA Division I Legislative Council to resolve an issue it should have addressed eons ago. Here’s betting the Board of Directors will do the right thing and enact the measure on Thursday.

Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is a Professor in the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog:

© Copyright 2014 Tanna K, All rights Reserved. Written For: Tinytown Unleashed